I’m SO diverse. I’m gay; Indian and African; my parents were born in Southern Africa; my father’s side of the family grew up incredibly poor; we’re all immigrants; I went to a comprehensive school. How impressive is my list of diverse check boxes? Are they more impressive than yours?
Ah you’ll ask me about my privilege instead? Well I suppose I’m gay, but I’m gay in a country where being gay is not illegal. My parents were born in Africa, but were in ex-colonies and so had British passports. They both managed to get a university degree when moving over here too, which of course helped me get to Oxford, and what could be more privileged than that? I went to a comprehensive, but it was one of a few dozen partially selective comprehensive schools, so it was actually between a comprehensive and a grammar.
So I’m not winning anymore then?
I’m sure you can see my point here, and I’m sure that those of you who have been in situations where diversity is discussed have witnessed this kind of competitivity. People seem to want to prove that they are more diverse than others, that they have more claim to diversity than others. It is often exhausting, and rarely productive, but having thought about it, there is a lot more nuance to it than is immediately apparent.
First of all, I am sure that this desire to compete for diversity comes not because someone wants to one-up the other person, but from a desire to have one’s worth and difference affirmed. It is an endless, and often silently suffered, burden to be the one in a room who is always different, the ‘diverse’ one. Rarely is that difference recognised, and when it is, it is more often tokenised than appreciated. (And that it is if it is even in the room…) To get affirmation of that diversity is so rare that it is not a surprise that one feels competitive, rather than welcoming, when someone else ‘diverse’ enters the room.
Secondly, there seems to be a quota for how much diversity one company/group can handle, so if someone starts to tread on those non-white toes, it feels almost like a threat to the pigeon-holed feeling of the tokenised diverse one. There are only so many boxes that a company has to tick, so what happens to you when someone else ticks them better than you? Society does not yet appreciate the value of diversity, as much as some recognise that it is at least slightly necessary now. It is a step in the right direction, but it is a small step forward on a long road to recognition. So this competitivity also comes from a sense of threat by the other diverse person, not because of a lack of desire for diversity, but out of the innate fear that there is not enough space for two of you.
Thirdly, we have grown to almost fetishize that which is different in the media, and definitely among ‘millennials’, so perhaps people want to win the competition of the ‘most different’ for that reason also. Being tokenised by the media can bring some necessary attention to issues of diversity, but given that it seems more of a phase than a genuine interest in diversity, people want to compete for that spotlight.
I am sure there are many more reasons why people feel the need to compete. Until diversity is no longer a buzz word, something that we fetishize or tokenise, and instead something we appreciate, I am sure that this strange competition will continue. But, as we find ourselves in positions where that feeling of rivalry starts to rear its ugly head, I think it is vital to try appreciate what is happening. The fight for diversity is not against one another, and we should not take the limitations of companies/individuals viewpoints out on those we should be trying to help. If someone feels the need to argue about who is more diverse, try appreciating the reasons above (or think of others I’m sure you’re much smarter than I am). Remind them of this if you can, and then turn that energy towards trying to make change.
We won’t win by fighting amongst ourselves. We must appreciate the differences between us all, and find ways to bring them together, not use them to drive us apart. Diversity is a cause that we must be passionate about, but it is a passion we must direct to inspiring change that can, and will, come.
‘Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles […] Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.’ – Sara Ahmed